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Aviation Security Worries; New Breakthrough With Iran?; Interview With Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick; Interview with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

Aired May 22, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening tonight from Boston. I'm John King.

Ahead: on ominous note -- an emergency landing and new worries about airline security on flights heading to the United States from overseas.

Also, a possible breakthrough in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Is Iran about to blink and allow new inspections?

And the man who succeeded Mitt Romney Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, is a Democrat, but wait until you hear what he has to say about Romney's old company, Bain Capital.

We begin with the latest on an in-flight scare that forced a U.S. Airways jet to make an emergency landing under escort by fighter jets earlier today. The incident raises fresh concerns about security for airliners heading to the States from Africa and from Europe.

U.S. Airways Flight 787 from Paris to Charlotte diverted to Bangor, Maine, after a passenger's note warned she had a surgically implanted device. The plane with 188 people aboard landed safely and the woman was escorted off in handcuffs. Officials determined she didn't have a device after all, but that still leaves plenty of questions.

Our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, is with us, she of course a member of the external advisory committees for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Fran, this has been something people have been worried about for some time, somebody with an implanted device, perhaps a bomb. How was it handled?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: John, what we saw was a very aggressive response, and that's because what we have heard now for months is that from intelligence and law enforcement sources that they're really worried about this because they heard this threat stream.

This goes back to Yemen, the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The bombmaker is Asiri. He was the one who was responsible for the recently foiled plot that we have heard so much about, and this is a device. We haven't seen it happen yet. We haven't seen an actually implanted device explode.

But of course we know from the 9/11 Commission not to have another failure of imagination, and so they take this threat stream very seriously. They examined this woman. They saw no evidence of recent surgical marks, but they couldn't take the chance that they had missed something and so they scrambled two F-15s and they put it down in Bangor, Maine, which is consistent with what the protocol would have been for a flight coming in with a threat from Europe.

KING: Is there anything -- you mentioned turns out not to be the case, no recent surgical marks and the like, but if you're the crew on that plane, I assume you just have basic guidelines. If somebody says they have this, you just take -- you have to assume it's serious, correct?

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right. We understand now that they put her to the back of the plane, where she was examined. She was held there.

The pilot then notified the air traffic control and they did do exactly what they have been trained to do. And, John, while this turned out to be a woman with sort of a false threat, they didn't know that in the air and they did everything that they were supposed to do to protect the passengers on that flight.

KING: And so the question, Fran, is since this threat it out there -- and we assume this is a false alarm here and they acted appropriately and did what they thought was the best at the time -- where are we in terms of getting to the point that can these sort of -- can these devices be detected?

TOWNSEND: Well, this is probably the most difficult challenge we're facing.

There's no one single silver bullet that would have detected this. What TSA I think tells us that they rely on is a matrix, a multilayered approach. And so you go through. There are screeners who have behavioral training to spot anomalies. They swipe your hands. You go through back-scatter and millimeter wave machines.

And so what the hope is, is this multilayered approach would allow them to identify somebody that was an anomaly, so that they might be able to detect it, but right now there's no single screening device that would actually detect an implanted device.

KING: Our national security contributor, Fran Townsend -- Fran, thanks.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, John.

KING: We're tracking a potential breakthrough tonight on Iran's disputed nuclear program. The United Nations nuclear watchdog says expect a deal within the next few days which could clear the way for fuller access to controversial sites and scientists that many believe could be part of an atomic weapons program.


YUKIYA AMANO, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Last time, I said progress was made. This time, I'm saying decision was made.


KING: Nick Burns is the former undersecretary of state for political affairs, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He now teaches at Harvard University.

So, Nick Burns, is this a breakthrough or this another Iranian promise soon to be broken?


It could be a breakthrough, but we will have to see the details of this agreement, if it's finalized by the International Atomic Energy Agency. We have learned with the Iranians over the last several years you cannot trust and you have to verify. And this deal, of course, that's now being reported in the press is by no means finished, but it is a good sign that they invited the chairman of the IAEA for the first time in a couple of years to visit, that they're talking about much more intrusive inspections of suspected nuclear sites and of current nuclear sites.

That's been one of the big issues that the United States and other countries have had with the Iranians, their refusal to allow the IAEA to monitor exactly what the Iranians are doing. And, of course, John, this coincides with a very important second round of negotiations tomorrow in Baghdad, where the United States and the other members of the perm five will be negotiating with Iran.

It looks like there's momentum towards at least the beginnings of some kind of an agreement, but I think, until we see the details, we have reason to be cautious.

KING: Well, you say reason to be cautious. The Israelis are openly skeptical. They have the most at stake, you might argue, in this. They say what they believe Iran is doing is agreeing to some technical agreement on paper, essentially so they can go into those talks you just mentioned tomorrow and say, back off the sanctions, give us a break.

Should the P-5 plus one, that's the group -- that what it's called, the United States, should they back off or should they ratchet up the pressure?

BURNS: I think the Iranians are at the table in Baghdad tomorrow because of the pressure, because of the sanctions. So I would think that we'd want to see a maintenance of the sanctions, if not a reinforcement of the sanctions.

And, indeed, the E.U. oil embargo in Iran is just now beginning to be implemented, and the U.S. Central Bank sanctions which are so important also just beginning to be implemented. So I would be surprised if we saw the sanctions taken off Iran, because I think that's been the reason, that's what's motivated the Iranians, that and the threat of force from the Israelis, which I think has been made credible by the toughness of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Those are the two reasons why the Iranians appear to be moving at the present time.

KING: Former NATO ambassador, Undersecretary of State Nick Burns, appreciate your time tonight.

BURNS: Thanks, John.

KING: Let's turn now to an important consumer safety story here at home.

The stroller brigade invaded Capitol Hill today, a group of mothers pushing their babies and pushing lawmakers for a crackdown on dangerous chemicals found in everyday products.

Here's our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Strollers, babies, breast-feeding pillows -- usually, women walking around the Capitol like this are tourists, not activists.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hey, hey, ho, ho, toxic chemicals have to go!

BASH: But moms like Lisa Allen came from all over the country, pushing to regulate chemicals and products we all use, like mattresses, carpets and plastics, even items made for babies, that could be health hazards.

LISA ALLEN, PROTESTER: As a mom, it's overwhelming. We do the best we can, but we still need help. We're hoping our senators will help us to protect our children.

BASH: Earlier this month, "The Chicago Tribune" reported flame retardant chemicals in many carpets and couches, pushed by the smoking industries to prevent fires are also toxins that can cause cancer, fetal impairment and fertility problems. That prompted this protest.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Every time you sit down on the couch, you know what happens? When you sit down, you release this fine spray of toxic chemicals right in the face of your baby. That isn't right.

BASH: At issue: a 1976 law given the EPA authority to regulate chemicals is in need of an update. The EPA administrator says because of legal and procedural hurdles of the 80,000 chemical in its inventory, the agency tested just 200 chemicals and has only banned five because of toxic health risks.

Senator Frank Lautenberg authored legislation to make testing more frequent and information more available, require manufacturers to provide information on how health hazards for all chemicals. And require chemical companies, just like pharmaceuticals, to demonstrate product safety before putting products on the market.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Required chemical makers to prove their products are safe before they end up in our children's bodies.

BASH: The chemical industry strongly disputes the EPA numbers, but insists chemical companies agree, safety laws need to be updated. It's just that the Democrat's approach will not hurt business.

ANNE KOLTON, AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL: It will do the two things that we really need to do, the two goals, to protect health and the environment, and also to insure that American manufacturers can compete in the global marketplace.

BASH: But moms like Christine Nienstedt who flew in from Idaho to talk to her senator says she wants information on make smart choices about what she buys.

CHRISTINE NIENSTEDT, PROTESTER: You can't read a label on this pillow and know that it's supposed to confer with rules for fire retardants. That makes you feel like you're doing something safe for your family. It just turns out that we learned the exact opposite may be happening. So until the labels mean something, we are powerless.


BASH: Now, there are 18 Democratic Senate co-sponsors. Those are Democrats. No Republicans so far, John, and the spokesman for the top Republican on the Environment Committee, James Inhofe, tells me that he does think this issue is important. He wants to work with Democrats, but the way this particular piece of legislation was written, it would hurt, he says, businesses and business development.

KING: So help me a bit further on that one, Dana. You say Senator Inhofe is open to the goals.

We also know Senator Inhofe and most Republicans don't love the EPA. So is there a middle ground here?

BASH: That is definitely another part of it.

There's no question that the legislation gives a lot more power to the EPA to regulate businesses, which is a political nonstarter for a lot of Republicans. Is there a middle ground? The truth is that there have been private discussions with consumer groups, with industry groups, and with senators and members of Congress in both parties for some time.

They seem to be at odds right now, but with the kind of effort that we saw from moms today going from door to door, that's the kind of grassroots effort that actually does tend to matter in the long term. So it could be.

KING: We will stay tuned on that one. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, Dana, thank you.

Ahead, there's a new sign the economy may be picking up. It's especially good news for homeowners hoping to sell. We will have the details in just a little bit.

But, next, the man who succeeded Mitt Romney as governor and still deals with Romney's old business.


KING: You're the governor of a state that Bain Capital calls its global home. It's right up the street, the global headquarters.


KING: Are they a bad company?

PATRICK: No, no, they're not a bad company.



KING: He has South Side of Chicago roots, is a Harvard Law grad, an African-American politician whose first book discusses stresses in his relationship with his father.

No, not Barack Obama, Deval Patrick, a friend of the president's and the governor of Massachusetts, at a fascinating moment in both state and national politics.


KING: First, thanks for your time, Governor.

PATRICK: I'm glad to be here. Thank you. Welcome home.


KING: Thank you. It's good to be home.

You're in a very interesting position this year. I want to start with you're the governor of a state that Bain Capital calls its global home. It's right up the street, the global headquarters.

PATRICK: Indeed. Indeed.

KING: Are they a bad company?

PATRICK: No, no, they're not a bad company.

And nobody is saying they are, including the president. It's a remarkable thing, you know, if you take a little step back, to watch how good the Republicans are at changing the subject. This is not about Bain. It's not about private equity in general. It's about a guy who is holding himself out to be a job creator, whose record is fair game at doing that.

I can tell you, that when he was -- when he was governor before me, we were 47th in the nation in job creation. We're in the top 10 today. The numbers of reforms that we -- that he talked about, but we actually accomplished, is considerable.

He did one profoundly important thing, and that is to lead the reform of the health care system. And that's not something he wants to talk about on the national trail.

KING: I will come back to his time as governor in a minute, but a member of the House Democratic leadership, Jim Clyburn, just today said Bain Capital rapes companies. He says he can't support companies that go around raping companies. Is that what they do?

PATRICK: Well, look, the question is whether Mitt Romney has what it takes, has the preparation and the experience and the empathy to serve as president of the United States.

It's not about whether Bain is good or bad. I have friends at Bain. I have people who supported the other candidate in my own campaign. So I respect what Bain does and its role in the free market system. But we need somebody who understands that there are multiple bottom lines, and that's what we have in President Obama.

KING: You are a friend of the president of the United States and as you just noted...

PATRICK: And an enthusiastic supporter.

KING: And you serve in the office once held by Governor Romney. Odd place to be in a presidential campaign?

PATRICK: Well, sometimes.

I don't -- there are a number of people who have been encouraging me to get out there and, you know, hammer away at my predecessor. He's always been a gentleman to me. And I don't like that kind of politics, but I do think that his record in his one episode in public life is fair game.

And it's a record that does not support what he's holding himself out to be. What I think we need instead and what we have tried to do here in Massachusetts -- and I know what the president's trying to do at the national level -- is to encourage people to turn to each other, instead of on each other and come together to solve big problems.

KING: I assume you have no doubt who will carry Massachusetts in the general election?

PATRICK: Well, I'm working real hard to see that it's President Obama.

KING: Is it strange for you? In a presidential year, Massachusetts is usually an afterthought. People say, it's blue, it's Democratic, it's as solid as can be.


PATRICK: We don't like to think of ourselves that way.

KING: Most people think President Obama will carry the state, even though Governor Romney calls it home.

But you also have the Brown-Warren race, one of the best Senate races in the country.

PATRICK: Yes. Really interesting race.


KING: You have the prospect of a Kennedy going back to Congress in the Barney Frank district as he retires. And we have that lapse now, no Kennedys in the Congress. Interesting state this year, not normally the case.


And we are -- I think we are thought of as being more reliably blue than in fact we are. There are more unregistered independents in Massachusetts than there are registered Democrats and registered Republicans combined. And we have had 16 years before me of Republican governors.

We have -- we have Scott Brown now in the Senate, and in a tight race with the probable Democratic nominee, Elizabeth Warren.

KING: Let's go back then. Let's go -- let's make clear what is and isn't fair game when it comes to one of your big taxpayers, again, Bain Capital, where I started.

But what's fair and what's not fair game? Because some people do just attack the company broadly.

PATRICK: No, I get that.

KING: There are people who said these guys are raiders, they're horrible.

PATRICK: Yes. I get that. I get that some people just think that the whole idea of private equity is bad and doesn't contribute.

I'm just saying I'm not one of those people. But I do think that it is fair to ask whether a person who represents himself as having a record of creating jobs has actually done so. And we have seen a number of examples made public recently of that not actually happening. That doesn't mean that there's something wrong with that dimension of private equity in some absolute sense.

But it does mean that what is being represented as a capability of the Republican nominee is undermined by the facts. KING: I worked in this state many years ago, and my first presidential campaign was covering Governor Dukakis, someone else who once held your job.

Ted Kennedy ran for the presidency. Michael Dukakis ran for the presidency.

PATRICK: Where are you going with this?

KING: John Kennedy ran for the presidency. Mitt Romney is running for the presidency.

Deval Patrick in recent months, if you look at your schedule of where you have been and where you're going, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, California, planning for 2016?

PATRICK: I'm planning for 2012, and that is the reelection of President Obama. And that's why I have been to all those places. And I will go other places that I can to support him and what he's trying to do, consistent with my day job.

KING: In this book, you talk about the advice from an English teacher at Milton Academy. Shun pretense and ambiguity, you said he taught you.

So shun pretense and ambiguity. Deval Patrick does not think maybe down the line, "I will seek national office"?

PATRICK: No. No. I really...


KING: Shermanesque.

PATRICK: It's so interesting. I keep being asked this question and I keep answering it the same way, because it's the truthful way.

KING: Governor, thanks for your time.

PATRICK: Thank you, John. Good to be with you.


KING: Still to come: New satellite pictures reveal North Korea may be about to start yet another international crisis.

Plus, defying astronomical odds, get this, a baseball fan catches back-to-back home runs.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Ahead here: some unwelcome garbage now washing up on the U.S. West Coast. It's the first debris from last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And, as we will see in just a bit, there's plenty more where this came from.

But next, the head of the Republican Party joins us to discuss the increasingly nasty and personal campaign for the White House.


KING: In this half-hour of "JOHN KING, USA," the Republican Party chairman joins us to talk tactics, just as the Obama campaign expands its effort to define Mitt Romney as uncaring, out of touch and, they say, unqualified to be president.

Plus, more than a million tons of junk washed away by Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami now starting to wash up along the U.S. West Coast, and some of it may be toxic.

Plus, the "Truth" about the latest poll numbers and why President Obama wants to change the subject.

It's been over a year since President Obama released his long- form birth certificate, but the birther movement isn't dead, at least not to some in the Republican Party.

Arizona's secretary of state has asked Hawaii for verification about the president's place of birth. And now the Iowa Republican Party wants to insert a -- quote -- "national born citizen requirement" in its platform.


DON RACHETEA: There are many Republicans who feel that Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen, because his father was not an American when he was born, and therefore, feel that according to the Constitution, he's not qualified to be president, should not have been allowed to be elected by the Electoral College or even nominated by the Democratic Party in 2008. And so, you know, this is an election year. It's a shot at him.


KING: So is this the conversation Republicans ought to be having in the middle of a very competitive presidential campaign?

Joining me now, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

Mr. Chairman, we were talking how competitive this election is, how you think maybe you can put Michigan back in the Republican column. What do you say to people like the gentleman you just heard in the state of Iowa, the Arizona secretary of state, who are trying to stir up this birther argument? Do you pick up the phone and tell them stop?

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, I haven't picked up the phone yet, but I've been pretty clear now for over a year, and I don't know how long I've been chairman, that this issue is a distraction. We have everything we have to have on this president.

We've got the words coming out of his mouth, the promises and the standards that he made to the American people. He didn't fulfill any of them when it comes to jobs, the debt, the deficit. You know, he's the president of the United States. And I got to tell you, we're going to beat him in November. And we're going to focus in on where the -- I think the real horsepower in this campaign is all about, which is the economy and the promises that Barack Obama made to the American people.

KING: But to beat him, sir, and it is a very competitive election, and Governor Romney has a very good chance, as we speak, on this day, to beat him you need discipline. We just talked there. You said yet, and I assume that means you just may yet pick up the phone.

I want to you listen here to a Romney supporter, Iowa Congressman Steve King, and he's talking here about immigrants and who should be allowed in the country and who shouldn't be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: You want one that's going to be aggressive, pick the one that's the friskiest, the one that eggs you most, not the one that's over there sitting on the corner. So you get the pick of the litter and you got yourself a pretty good bird dog. We've got the pick of every civilization on the planet.


KING: Forgive me, sir, but given your party's challenge, deficit struggles with Latino voters right now, listening to something like that has to make you bang your head off the wall.

PRIEBUS: John, I'm sorry, I couldn't -- I couldn't hear what he said. I couldn't make it out, but I'll tell you this: our party is committed to reaching out and appealing to Latino Hispanic voters across America.

And we're not just doing it by talking about it. We're going on the ground, at the ground level, door to door in places like Kissimmee and Hialeah (ph) in Florida, with victory directors on the ground, with relationships, with municipal clerks making sure we're meeting our absentee ballot goals in those communities.

Look, an RNC or a DNC chairman can talk top line with you all day long. But at the end of the day, our job is to make sure that we've got more ballots in the box than our opponent, and that means having a ground operation and an army on the ground that can go door to door and appeal to those voters. That's what we do.

KING: But does it also mean not having, not only Republicans, but Republicans who are the little pin that says they're members of the United States Congress, equating immigrants to dogs?

PRIEBUS: John, I'm sorry, I couldn't -- honestly, I couldn't make out any of the clip that you just showed. So obviously, I can't be in a position to comment on it.

All I can tell you is that we believe that this president lied or was so grossly negligent in his promises to Hispanic voters across America in 2008. He promised pathway, he didn't deliver a thing. He had Harry Reid and 60 votes in the Senate. He had a super majority in Congress with Nancy Pelosi, and for all of his whining and complaining, he didn't accomplish one of his promises in that regard.

KING: I want to give you a chance to respond to this. As you know the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, went on "Meet the Press" this Sunday. He said some things that made the Obama campaign and the Democrats pretty mad about private equity.

He was also cautioning Republicans not to go down the Jeremiah Wright path, and he said he finds those things nauseating. He thinks it's time to focus on the big issues. Cory Booker took some heat from Democrats, took some heat from inside the Obama campaign. Last night he went on MSNBC and said this.


MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: Here they are, plucking sound bites out of that interview to manipulate them in a cynical manner to use them for their own -- for their own purposes.

To say I stand with Cory Booker, I have not seen a Republican national candidate with maybe the exception of Jack Kemp, a long time ago be willing to stand with me in places like Newark, New Jersey; Camden, New Jersey; Patterson, places that often the GOP wants to imagine doesn't exist.


KING: Are you plucking sound bites out of interviews and manipulating them?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think we all know the answer to that. You know, I'm a -- I've been a lawyer for 14 years, John, and one of the things I learned in law school is that when the other side is making your case you just keep letting them talk.

I can only hope and pray that the Obama team keeps Cory Booker out there on television. I hope he's on Sunday morning this week, as well. Because, you know, I happen to agree with him that these nasty, dirty attacks on Mitt Romney are uncalled for. And I think this president, who promised to be this different kind of politician -- he was going to carpet the world, you remember, in 2008. And now it's all, you know, hate and division and everybody's horrible, and this group against that group.

There's a better America. We love this country, and we believe that this country is on the line in this election. And that's why we need to defeat Barack Obama and bring back the America that we know and love.

KING: Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee. Sir, appreciate your time tonight. We'll continue the conversation; got 160 days to go.

PRIEBUS: You bet, John.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Get this. Soccer balls, Styrofoam containers, bits of Styrofoam and more, all sorts of everyday items now washing up on the Alaskan coast after a 14-month, 4,000-mile trip across the Pacific. It's all debris from Japan's devastating tsunami and earthquake in March of last year. The Japanese government says one and a half million tons of it is heading toward the West Coast, and some say it could be toxic.

CNN's Casey Wian is in Yakataga (ph), Alaska. Casey, you've gone a long way to see this beginning to wash ashore. What are the biggest concerns right now?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the biggest concern right now is the debris that we are starting to see wash up on the shores here in southeastern Alaska.

Now, as you mentioned, I'm near the fishing village of Yakataga (ph), and over here we've got an estuary. Across that water there, you can see a long, narrow sandbar. You can't see the Pacific ocean, but it's just right over there.

We're going to walk over here and show you some of the debris that we picked up the other day on this sandbar. You can look here and see things that locals say they have never seen before.

A lot of these buoys, this big, black buoy right here is used in oyster farming, they're saying. We see a lot of consumer products here, with Japanese writing on them. Here's another buoy over here that says "Made in Japan."

One of the biggest concerns, though, John, right here is buoys that are made out of this Styrofoam. You can see, just as I handle it, little bits and pieces blowing off. The big concern is that the wildlife, the fish and the birds, are going to be eating these little pieces of Styrofoam. They're going to think they're full. They're not going to get the nutrients they need. They're going to die off or be prey, easy prey for other species.

So locals here are very concerned about it. Some of the more remote areas you can only reach by helicopter or by boat are littered with debris. And they have not figured out how they are going to clean all this stuff up yet, and where they're going to put it once they clean it up. Nor have they figured out who's going to pay for it. Locals here say they do need some help, John.

KING: Well, that was the follow-up question. As this starts to come ashore, we know there's much more coming -- could take weeks and I assume months -- you say they don't know who's going to pay for it. Who do they hope will pay for it?

WIAN: Well, they certainly hope the federal government is going to step up to the plate. There are hearings coming up in Congress later this week to try to figure out how they're going to address this issue.

You know, we see the near-term problem right here, but the big concern is that giant mass that's still out there on the Pacific Ocean. There is a large commercial fishing industry here. There are Native Americans who still survive on subsistence fishing. You can see some of these huts behind me here. They're very concerned that boards and who knows what else will be caught in their nets. And then there's the concern about the potentially toxic substances out there getting into the water table.

A lot of issues that are being studied. It's the very beginning, but they're starting to run out of time. Because as you mentioned, this stuff is starting to come, and it's starting to arrive sooner than anyone expected. It seems that people didn't calculate the wind. A lot of the stuff that we're seeing here is lighter weight stuff, and so it is being blown by the wind in addition to the currents, John.

KING: Casey Wian on the scene for us, as this challenge begins in Alaska. Casey, thanks so much.

Ahead, the battle over Bain heats up. Is a Bain executive more qualified than your plumber to be president? Joe Biden doesn't think so.


KING: The battle over Bain intensified today as Vice President Joe Biden visited New Hampshire and suggested -- get this -- your plumber, he says, is as ready to be president as Mitt Romney.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your job as president is to promote the common good. That doesn't mean the private equity guys are bad guys. They're not. But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber. It doesn't -- and by the way, there are a lot of awful smart plumbers. All kidding aside, it's not the same job requirement. So it's totally legitimate for the president to point this out.


KING: Now Biden wasn't kidding when he got to the crux of the Obama campaign Bain attack, raising character questions about Governor Romney.


BIDEN: What private equity firms are supposed to do is make wealth for the investors. Exactly. Exactly. That's their job; it's legitimate. It's legitimate. But folks, making money regardless of the consequences for the workers, the companies they acquire, or the communities that get wasted, is another question.


KING: Now top Romney advisers accuse the president and the vice president of a gross distortion.


JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: I think the Bain record as a whole is fair game, and what you have to do is do an honest evaluation. The Bain record is about 80 percent they were able to save jobs at companies, and 20 percent of the -- when they invested in companies that were in such bad shape, they weren't able to save those jobs.


KING: We're live in Boston tonight. This is the home of Bain Capital. And its workers, Democrats as well as Republicans, don't appreciate the Obama campaign attacks, but don't expect those attacks to end.

Look at this: Fifty-five percent of registered voters in the latest ABC/"The Washington Post" poll disapprove of how the president is handling the economy.

And this one's even worse. Just 16 percent said they are better off now than when President Obama was elected.

Now you don't need me to tell you those are damning numbers for any incumbent and a big reason the president wants to change the focus to Governor Romney and Bain.

Here to talk truth tonight, the "New York's" Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza; in Macon, Georgia, the editor in chief of and CNN contributor Erick Erickson; and in Washington, CNN contributor James Carville.

Mr. Carville, to you first, we will see more and more polling. Maybe we'll get data that gives us a clear, definitive yes or no. But in your view, are the attacks on Bain working?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They're just starting, and they're going to continue, as they well should.

I don't even understand the argument against them. Romney makes Bain central to why he's running and who he is. He says he created 100,000 jobs. Obama people pointing out that, hey, you lost some jobs in place and all these Republicans out there are whining.

Actually, Governor Sununu makes as much sense as anybody. Of course, Romney put it front and center. It's his reason for running. It's what he touts all the time. It's absolutely absurd in American politics to see people whining about something that a candidate puts forward. It doesn't make any sense that he couldn't make this an issue, just like you can make things about Obama an issue.

KING: Absolutely. CARVILLE: It makes no sense to me.

KING: Erick -- Erick, absolutely absurd, makes no sense?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, I agree with James. Look, the Romney campaign made his time in the private sector an issue so, of course, the Obama campaign is going to make it an issue.

But the Obama campaign, as they do make it an issue, should probably focus on the time Mitt Romney was actively in charge of the company. And the Romney campaign, I think, has a right to say, "You know what? Romney wasn't there at the time."

And Romney can also, as he did, I thought, probably the only effective time he ever dealt with the issue during the primary, was to say this is just like what Barack Obama did with General Motors, I did with Bain Capital.

So yes, it's legitimate to go after it, but I think the Obama campaign has to be careful in how they do. And to be honest with you, John, I don't think most Americans understand what private equity is, and a lot of them really don't care.

KING: Well, if they're paying attention to the campaign, I think they're going to know a lot more about private equity as we get closer to the election.

Ryan, let me bring you in on our conversation. As the president tries to make this case -- and it's clear he thinks it's a case worth making -- he's had some problems, I will call them, with Democrats complicating his messaging.

Cory Booker saying he found these nauseating; and also any attacks on Jeremiah Wright, as well. He went out and tried to fix that. Listen here. This is James Clyburn, a member of the House Democratic leadership, on the air today, criticizing Bain and explaining that he never takes any political contributions from companies whose conduct in question.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't take contributions from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if I know that. I refuse to do that. And that's free enterprise. But there's something about that enterprise that I have a problem with. And there's something about raping companies and leaving them in debt and setting up Swiss bank accounts incorporating businesses in the Grand Caymans, I have a real serious problem with that.


KING: Now, Ryan, the Obama campaign said they didn't like the congressman using the word "raping." They thought that was over the top. But isn't Congressman Clyburn there saying if you took money from Bain, if you don't like what you're doing, you should give it back? Now, the president has raised about $150,000 in this campaign. A top Bain official has helped him raise more than $200,000 or more. Isn't that what the congressman's saying?

RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": Yes, partly. I don't know if Clyburn is in a really safe seat, so he can afford to make those decisions and not take money from -- from certain constituents.

And you're right. I think partially what might explain things like Cory Booker and some other, more business-friendly Democrats is that they have relationships with people in private equity. And as the Democratic coalition becomes more upscale, those kind of funders are more important to Democrats.

Now Obama, on the other hand, was sort of the favorite of Wall Street in 2008 and has lost a lot of that support. So it's really safer for him to attack private equity.

But on this whole issue of what Romney's done, my view of this is his mistake was that he redefined what his success at Bain was all about. And he defined it in terms of jobs, because he wants to run on fixing this economy, and everyone wants to talk about jobs.

And he's not telling the sort of positive story that he could be. You know, his work in turning around the Olympics, his work as governor, and, you know, his work at Bain based on a different metric, not jobs, is a decent story. And he sort of walked right into a trap here that the Obama folks set for him.

KING: James, I want your take on these brand-new numbers, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll just came out, and they asked did President Obama deliver the change he promised in 2008? Thirty-six percent in the new poll say that he's delivered the right kind of change. Sixty-two percent in the brand- new poll say he's delivered the wrong kind of change.

If you're advising an incumbent and that 62 percent number has to give you some pretty serious pause.

CARVILLE: I have no doubt it's a very, very close election. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we're winning. The race is 47/47. There's -- a lot is going to depend on what happens between now and election day.

But the thing that I go back to the Bain thing, this is absolutely absurd. It's not an attack on private equity. It's an attack on Romney stepping right into it.

And the only thing I disagree with Ryan about is Romney stepped into it. He said he created 100,000 jobs net-net. I don't know the difference between net and net and net. But that's what he said.

So when you put that at issue, and you're running for president -- by the way, Romney is a man who has some resources. He's raising a bunch of money. He's worth a bunch of money. He has a whole network. He's got a whole political party behind him to answer this. Quit whining about it and answer it. Put people on who've got heart, talk about the good things. All this carping and whining and attack on this and that, that's the thing that drives me crazy. If you want to run for president, then, you know, you got to take -- you've got to take what comes with it.

LIZZA: It's no mystery this was going to happen, right? The entire primaries were dominated by attacks like this from his Republican opponents.


KING: And so, Erick, does he have to step forward and say more or would that take his focus off the president if he tried to open the Bain books or explain it more positively like James says?

ERICKSON: You know, I think that Romney needs to keep focusing on the economy, the numbers. It's sort of like what I've been saying for a while now. The president is going to have to convince the American public right now, just look at these NBC News polls that are just out.

The president is going to have to convince the American public that Romney will do a worse job than he's already done fixing the economy, because there seems to be a growing consensus in America that the president hasn't done a very good job.

So he's going to have to go after Bain. And Romney, when he starts phrasing his attacks on the economy and what he did at Bain, showing that he really is a turnaround artist. And I think that's probably where he should go, not necessarily that he created jobs, but that he is a turnaround artist.

LIZZA: I agree with that. He's got a good story to tell but it's about his management experience and decision making not about how many jobs he created.

CARVILLE: He stepped into it.

(CROSSTALK) KING: They are going to keep hitting it. You are right on that front. Mr. Carville, gentlemen, thanks. We'll continue the conversation.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour.

And Erin, to follow up on this, you're speaking to a former partner with Bain tonight. What's his take on Governor Romney's tenure there?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, he is very clear that the goal of private equity is to make profits and to make money.

Now, this is obviously very difficult for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is trying to say, well, he's created all these jobs. In truth though, John, of course, if private equity is successful, you have better, stronger companies and therefore more stable, higher paying jobs. That does not always end up being the case. And we've done the math, as well, on those numbers of jobs that James was just referring to, Mitt Romney says he's created. What are the real numbers?

And also Cory Booker. Remember how he said, "I don't want to personally indict private equity"? It's not just because he's friends with private equity titans, because private equity firms have been making direct investments in Newark. And we're going to tell you about what those are.

It's a more complicated story on private equity than either the left or right would like to admit, as you well know. So we're going to talk about that, and that Bain partner, I'll find out who he's voting for, John.

KING: I'm looking forward to that. We'll see you in just a few minutes, Erin. Thanks.

An online auction site found a sure way to get attention. It's offering what it claims is dried blood from the attempt to assassinate President Reagan. Really?


KING: Here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.


A somber and emotional moment just now in Joplin, Missouri. A huge crowd observed a moment of silence at 5:41 Central Time, marking exactly one year since a devastating tornado touched down there. I'm sure you cannot forget the storm killed 161 people.

And a new era in space exploration blasted off before dawn. The first supply ship launched by a private company is now in orbit and bound for the International Space Station. Pretty amazing video right there.

Space X's Dragon capsule is carrying food, clothing, and scientific experiments. It's an unmanned mission. If it's successful, it may open the door for other commercial space missions. Always fun to watch that.

And an auction Web site is selling what else? A vial claiming it held President Ronald Reagan's blood sample after the 1981 assassination attempt. I believe that's a picture right there.

PFC Auction says there's even dried blood in the glass tube. The executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation calls it a, quote, "craven act if it's true." And the foundation is threatening legal action. Bidding ends Thursday, and the price is already more than -- get this -- $14,000.

I guess that's what great about America: you can sell anything, and there's always a buyer.

KING: It's morbid. It's morbid.

All right, Kate. Kate, you're probably too young for this. You're too young. But instead of a "Moment You Missed," we look back on the moments some of us missed from the original king of late night, Johnny Carson. He retired from "The Tonight Show" 20 years ago today.




KING: Carson walked through those curtains 4,531 times during his 30 years hosting "The Tonight Show."

Never saw it, did you, Kate?

BOLDUAN: I have fond memories of talking to my parents about that. Let's just leave it at that.

KING: Johnny used to take a pencil, used to take a pencil, bounce it off the desk, and it would flip up in the air. I used to practice that. The nuns did not appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: No, not so much? Good memories. That was a good tribute.

KING: Not so much. I got pretty good at it, though.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night. Have a great night, Kate.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.